“Which one of you is Thomas Yearsley?”
At 10:30 on a Friday night, a car parks in front of Yearsley’s recording studio on Wisconsin Street in Oceanside. The driver identifies herself as the mother of a teen who she says sat with the injured Yearsley until medics arrived following the bassist’s mishap two weeks ago with a northbound freight train.
“I just wanted to stop by and see if he was okay,” she says.
But Yearsley’s not there. He’s gone off to his apartment to grab some much-needed sleep. When the visitor leaves, Yearsley’s girlfriend Colleen Taber says that since the accident, several people have showed up at the studio claiming to have given aid to the Paladins bassist or saying that they pulled him out of harm’s way. And more than one of them, she says, has hinted that they would like some reward money.
“Or they want to know what drugs he got from the hospital, and can they smoke them.”
Late in the day on Monday, August 16, Yearsley and his dog, an aging red heeler named Swango, headed west on Wisconsin toward the ocean for their evening walk. “It was gonna be a short one,” says Yearsley. “I’d been working, and all my tape machines were still running.” They crossed the tracks and headed north toward the Oceanside pier. On the return, Swango ambled out onto the tracks and directly into the path of the oncoming 8:03 Burlington freight. “I tried to pull him out.”
Instead, a bystander managed to pull Yearsley out of harm’s way at the last second. “I got clipped,” he says. “I’m banged up everywhere.”
Yearsley suffered a broken leg and various contusions, some of them serious enough that police were overheard telling bystanders at the scene that he might lose his leg. He did not.
But Swango wasn’t so lucky. He died within minutes following impact with the speeding freightliner.
In the early 1980s, Thomas Yearsley cofounded the Paladins with high school buddy Dave Gonzalez. They would spend most of the next 20 years on the road and help propel the revival of roots rock and rockabilly. Yearsley has two children with his ex-wife, pianist-bandleader Candye Kane.
Doctors plan to reinforce Yearsley’s splintered leg bones with a steel plate. “I’m not in terrible shape,” he says, hobbling about the studio on crutches. “And, there’s a million things in this world that are a lot worse than my problems right now.” One of the biggest problems facing Yearsley in the coming days will be the accumulation of Life Flight, emergency room, and hospital bills. He is currently without health insurance, but he says he is not without hope.
“There’s a bunch of benefit [shows] on the calendar. People all over the country have been doing various things for me.” He knows about fundraisers in Austin and at the Royal Dive in Oceanside. As of this writing, helpthomas.com, a site erected by friends, has raised $3436 toward a goal of $20,000.
A train’s horn blasts a warning as it enters the Wisconsin Street crossing. It is audible even through the soundproofed walls of the control booth in the recording studio. “That’s a freight train,” says Yearsley. “You can tell by the sound.” He smiles. “I love the train.”